Justin Labonte celebrates his Busch Series win at the Chicagoland Speedway earlier in the year. Labonte is the son of NASCAR veteran Terry Labonte.
Photo by Sherryl Creekmore/NASCA
DOVER, Del. -- When Justin Labonte was asked if it was tough to be a Labonte in racing, the son of two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte answered in the same dry humor of his father.
"Being a Labonte isn't tough. I've been a Labonte since I was born. It's all I know," he said.
Terry Labonte hopes his son's journey into racing is just as rewarding, but he's careful not to push too hard. The father only wants his 23-year-old son to be happy and successful with whatever career path he chooses.
"Legacy in racing? Absolutely, no. I've had no desire in pushing him into a racing career," the elder Labonte said. "But if he wants to race, I'll support him in whatever way I can. I'd do the same if he decides he wants to be a computer programmer."
Labonte is like a lot of other drivers in this Sunday's MBNA America 400 at Dover Speedway. He's looking at the end of his distinguished career, and his son is following in his footsteps. Labonte admits every father thinks of his legacy, but he's been careful not to steer his son into his own career path.
"When you see your kids grow up, whether it's baseball or soccer or what, you want to see them succeed," he said. "That's all I want for Justin. Am I happy he chose racing? Yes, I guess. But I'd be just as happy if he chose something else."
Labonte, 47, will announce his retirement from a full-time schedule in the next couple weeks. He's scheduled to make about 15 starts a year starting in 2005, following a similar road to retirement that Bill Elliott started this season.
And now that Elliott has a lot of free time on his hands, how does he spend it?
"I love watching my son (Chase) race his go-karts on weekends," he said.
Rusty Wallace already has said the 2005 campaign will be his last on the Nextel Cup Series circuit. The sport may not be without a Wallace for too long, since his son, Stephen, is already making starts on the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
Matt Martin, son of driver Mark Martin, is racing pick-up trucks; Jason Jarrett, son of former series champion Dale Jarrett, races on the ARCA Re/Max Series; Steadman Marlin, son of driver Sterling Marlin, has made selected starts in ARCA and the NASCAR Busch Series.
Racing legacies aren't new in NASCAR. In fact, it's a good way to get in the business.
"To be a driver these days, you either have to bring a lot of money into the team or you have to be born into it," said veteran driver Morgan Shepherd. "The days of working your way into the sport are just about over."
Dale Jarrett is the son of a former champion Ned Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt; Sterling Marlin is the son of Coo Coo Marlin and Casey Mears is the son of IndyCar driver Roger Mears.
Terry Labonte has won two championships and 22 races on the Nextel Cup Series, including last year's Southern 500. But his greatest moment came in July when he watched Justin win his first Busch Series race at Chicagoland.
"No question that was the biggest weekend I've ever had," the proud father said. "That was bigger than anything I've ever done in racing. What was important to me was he did it in his own car with his own team. That was the first time I've seen him win a race since he was driving in a mini-stocker. I've always been away to a race, so I haven't been able to watch him."
Terry Labonte said sons of drivers come into the sport with a greater understanding of what it takes to succeed. They grow up watching their fathers at work, so they know about the demands and the lifestyle.
"It's just like kids in the military," the elder Labonte said. "Kids who watch their fathers in the military often go into the military, too, because they already know the life.
"Sons want to follow their father's footsteps. You want to be just like your dad."
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